Law and religion round-up – 4th December

Religious affiliation in England & Wales

By far the biggest religious news item of the week was the release by the ONS of the 2021 Census data on religious affiliation in England and Wales. We summarised it here and, helpfully, the Religion Media Centre collated some of the most important media comment as follows:

Humanist weddings

On Tuesday, there was a Question for short debate in the Lords at which Baroness Bakewell asked His Majesty’s Government when they intend to give legal recognition to humanist marriages.

Almost inevitably, the exchanges were inconclusive. Lord Bellamy, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice, told the House that the Government hopes to publish its initial response to the Law Commission’s final recommendations on reforming weddings law in England and Wales in the first part of next year. Overall, he appeared to accept the broad thrust of the Commission’s report:

“The Law Commission, in a very detailed and well-argued report, took the view that we should proceed as a country to solve the whole problem across all faiths at the same time and not favour a particular group. That is the Government’s position, and we will publish our position shortly.”

As to the specific issue of legislation for humanist weddings, however:

 “[T]he Government’s position is that to lay an order under the 2013 Act solely in favour of humanists would discriminate against other groups—Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and so forth—in permitting them to have a particular form of marriage not available to other groups. The Government’s position is that we must go forward together and solve the whole problem…

As the Government see it, we should have a regime for marriage in this country in which the civil preliminaries are common to all marriages, the persons who conduct marriages are authorised under one regime, we define what belief systems we will accept as people capable of authorising marriages, and we exclude extremists, cults and so forth. These are not straightforward questions. It is a very simple and, if I may say so, not complete answer to say that it is easy to do it for the humanists. We want to make sure that, for example, a marriage of a Muslim at home—which might not be a lawful marriage at the moment—is now taken forward and that we create a situation in which that becomes a lawful marriage and we have proper officiants, rules and regulations that regulate it all. That is the Government’s position.”

Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016

The Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 came into force on 1 December. Under its provisions, every landlord is required to provide a written copy of an “occupation contract” to the tenant setting out the rights and responsibilities of both parties, and “no-fault” notice periods are extended from two months to six months for new tenants. It will no longer be possible to issue a notice to quit in the first six months of a tenancy, meaning that all contract-holders will have a minimum of twelve months’ security at the start of their tenancies.

The implications of the change in the law for the occupation of parsonage houses and short-term lets of church property remain to be seen. Concern has been expressed in some quarters that the provision of a written “occupation contract” may affect the employment status of those clergy who have been hitherto regarded as office-holders.

Reporting proceedings in family courts

On 29 November, the President of the Family Division announced a pilot project on reporting proceedings in the Family Courts. Subject to carefully defined conditions, from January 2023 accredited journalists and bloggers will be able to report what they see and hear in the Family Courts in Cardiff, Carlisle and Leeds, subject to a list of matters that may not be reported without the express permission of the Court.

What caught our attention was the inclusion of bloggers: is this the first time that legal blogging has been given some kind of official recognition?

“Little boxes”

One could be forgiven for thinking the PCC of St Mary the Virgin Primrose Hill was influenced in the choice of its proposed seat covering by the Malvina Reynolds song “Little Boxes popularized bPete Seeger: see Re St Mary the Virgin Primrose Hill [2022] ECC Lon 2. The proposal was for 65 white chairs, 65 light blue chairs, 10 pink chairs and 10 lavender chairs. The Church Buildings Council did not favour upholstered chairs or multiple colours if upholstery were allowed.

The Chancellor determined that there was no convincing need for more than one colour, but bearing in mind that the majority of the chairs were in the two muted colours of white and light blue and had been purchased at considerable expense, he granted a faculty for the white and blue chairs to remain but directed that the brighter-coloured chairs (10 pink and 10 lavender) should be removed from the church.

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